Feature Friday: Linn

Linn is in my parent’s ward and I got to take a tour of her beautiful, tidy, and organized home a few months ago to get some inspiration for my own. Her story is one of familiarity and I am sure there are many who can relate to it. I am grateful for her willingness to share.
Linn’s favorite things are the gospel of Jesus Christher family and organization. She is also obsessed with being a picture taker, reader, laugher, memory maker and chapstick user. All of that said, her IG bio sums it up best: Wife to my favorite person ever, momma to my other six favorite humans. What a beautiful life I get to live, what a mighty Savior I get to serve.

Linn

The first time I remember experiencing depression was when I was 18 years old. I definitely couldn’t have named it at the time, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Those few weeks after my high school graduation, after pushing myself beyond my limits for months and months, I felt completely numb and oddly “off” for many weeks. My current 42-year-old self can easily look back and see that it was a precursor of things to come, but it certainly wasn’t obvious then. I have now officially been in treatment for depression for the last six years. I’m extraordinarily grateful for each facet of that treatment. But there is little question to me that I should have been earnestly seeking help longer than I have been.

I believe the depression I know today began when our little family lived back East. Our time on the East Coast was an extremely difficult five years for me. And that was very unexpected. We had moved multiple times and lived in several different cities throughout the US, beginning just shortly after our marriage. But for some reason, my outgoing nature just couldn’t break through in Boston. We had wonderful members of our church congregation that we adored (and still do), but the boundaries of that congregation were huge and our time with them was very limited. I tried for three years to somehow find a friend or two in our town that I could feel close to, someone beyond just an acquaintance I talked to on occasion. I was told more than once, “I’m sorry you’ll never fit it. It isn’t your fault you aren’t a townie.” (Townie refers to someone who was born, raised, and still resided in the same New England town.) I honestly don’t believe the people who told me this were being rude, it was just how it was and they thought I should know. I couldn’t really fix that little problem of mine, so I kept trying. Until I didn’t.

I remember telling my husband after three years of doing everything I could to make a true connection with those around me, “My situation hasn’t changed, but I have.” And I had to let it go. Not out of bitterness or resentment, but just out of a final realization that my extroverted and outgoing personality wasn’t going to win this one.

In addition, and I’m still not sure of the reason behind this, but our time back East just felt hard. Everyday tasks felt like they took a lot out of me, something I hadn’t experienced in the past or since our most recent move. And anything out of the ordinary felt just plain daunting. Obviously those feelings can be signs of depression, but in all honesty, I don’t know how much was because of my emotional health and how much of that struggle might have been causing my depression. I know not everyone who lives in New England feels this way, but I actually have talked to several who do. It is curious to me, if nothing else.

The last two years of our time in Boston were fine; nothing about them was particularly terrible. But I could sense that I had changed in ways that were actually worrisome to me. I could feel my naturally, extroverted self, closing in. A lot of the time, “introvert” better described me during those days. Now let me be clear, I am in no way implying that introverts are depressed, just the drastic change in personality for me was what was notable and cause for concern.

At the same time all of this was happening, I had some terribly difficult struggles with some extended family members that brought me to my knees. Over and over and over again. It was just a lot, for many years, and it definitely contributed to my concerning emotional health.

As did my physical health. I often joke with my husband that I think I received a “refurbished” body when I came to Earth. I have the strangest health issues at times, from high risk pregnancies to an unusual brain disorder (idiopathic intracranial hypertension for those looking for a tongue-twister) to PCOS to bizarre joint and bone problems. I cannot count the number of times a doctor has said to me, “I have never seen anything like this Mrs. Allen.” Nice. And while I usually try to joke about it, physical struggles can most definitely contribute to depression challenges. And those health issues were oddly abundant while we lived on the East Coast.

One last experience in New England stood out to me. I had gone into my OB/GYN for an appointment and I ended up sharing with her how much I was struggling, how hard life felt for me all of the time of late. She told me she thought I should see my primary care, but she also ran a couple of tests herself. Through those tests, she discovered that my hormone levels were incredibly off and advised that I take a small bit of hormone, hoping that would help things. It did. Tremendously. At least for a time.

Shortly thereafter, I did visit my primary care physician. She listened and then suggested that I take an anti-depressant, to see if it would help. I remember being shocked and wondering why she was jumping to something so drastic. I laugh at that now, knowing that she was likely seeing it much more clearly than I was in that moment. (It is so interesting to me that when I think of others with depression or other mental health challenges getting help or taking medication, it feels brave to me. I’m so impressed with them. But when it came to me, it felt weak and lacking. I’m past that now, gratefully, but oh man, it was how my mind operated during that time.) Because the hormones my other doctor prescribed helped so much for a time, I felt almost justified in my reaction to my primary care doctor. I didn’t need anti-depressants, I just needed some help with my hormones. (Insert the emoji where I am shaking my head at myself. Also the prideful emoji that doesn’t exist to my knowledge, but should—at least for me.)

A few months after this experience, we received a strong impression that we needed to move. Through much prayer and fasting and my husband searching for jobs, we ended up with the answer that we should move back to Utah. Both my husband and I cried (and my husband is not a crier). We had lived “away” from our home state for more than a dozen years and while we both loved the state we were raised in, we never imagined moving back. We liked “being away” and it was difficult for that to end. It felt like a bigger change than we had initially thought we would be asked to make.

At the same time, I was expecting our sixth child. As mentioned, I have high risk pregnancies. Every single time. And my last one was especially difficult. It was physically taxing and worrisome, like the rest, but it seemed to take a more emotional toll on me than the other five, likely because of all that was happening in our lives and the large amount of change and challenges throughout my time being pregnant.

I remember about ten days or so after our daughter was born (she was four weeks early, but gratefully, very healthy), my husband approached me and kindly said, “Linn, do you want to call the doctor or should I?” He didn’t need to explain himself. Both of us knew I was in a dark and numb place, deeper in depression than I ever had been before that time. I didn’t even have the strength to make that call. But he did. And I will be forever grateful.

That call was the beginning of me fighting for my mental health and while I wish I could say that initial reason for calling the doctor has remained my worst time, it hasn’t. Not by a long shot. But I have had doctors that I will forever praise their name for going to bat for me and helping me make decisions to help myself. I have an incredible therapist that I have been seeing for years and how I was led to her can only be described as “divine intervention.” And after a few different tries, I have a wonderful medication that I take that has been such a blessing and help to me. It doesn’t change who I am, it clears away the junk, so I can be who I truly am. I have children who know that I have depression and that let me be open with them about it (age appropriately, of course). We talk about it plenty and we joke about it a lot (they are careful to never cross the line in their humor, but it is seriously beyond hilarious, I love it so). And while it may not be right for everyone, it is so right for us for the stigma and secrecy of mental illness not to be present in our family. And mostly, I have a husband who has been through more than anyone else realizes and still keeps coming back and loving and serving and trying and accepting and caring. He is amazing and good and I am eternally grateful for him and how he chooses to love me and how he works to see such good in me, even when I am in a place where I don’t believe him.

Most especially, I have a Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ, who love me and have never left my side. When my depression is at its worst, I can’t feel the Spirit. I can’t feel my Father’s love or my Savior’s hope. And that used to shake me and make me feel unworthy and make it hard to pray or read my scriptures or even to care… But more often than not now, it just makes me look forward to when the depression will clear and the ability to feel the Spirit will return. My prayers and my doing everything possible to have the Spirit close to me, especially when I can’t feel it, not only make the post-depression episodes so much better, but they make my actual periods of depression much less. I know how blessed I am to have my depression as manageable as it is. And all of that is due to the above paragraph and to God’s incredible kindness and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy, and there have been many dark, dark times that bring tears to my eyes when I think about them. But I know to Whom I can go for strength and help and healing (no matter how temporary) and mostly, to feel even a sliver of light, in a very dark place.

As I told someone recently, I don’t actually believe my life here in mortality is meant to be free of depression. Who knows? Maybe I am wrong about that. But to be honest, I don’t know if I want to be completely free from my depression. I have had opportunities to help others that I never would have had I not personally dealt with mental illness myself. I have made the choice to be very open about having depression and seeking treatment and seeing a counselor, a choice that works for me. And I have been surprised when that comes back to be a blessing to others. I have gone through situations that have rocked me to my core (most especially in the past three years, the last year being an absolute doozy). But because depression is a part of my life, I am learning to make the effort to take care of myself and help to heal myself from those difficult events and experiences in a way that I don’t know that I would without this struggle.

Depression is real. It is a part of my story. But it isn’t my story. And I have my Savior, Jesus Christ and my God to thank for that. They have surrounded me with my sweet kids that care when I struggle and that laugh when it is most needed. They have given me a husband that is the most hopeful and incredible person I know, even when he has every reason not to be. They have allowed me to struggle with depression, knowing that it had the ability to bring me to Them in a way that nothing else could, if I would make that choice.

If there is anything I have learned over the last six years–and beyond–it is that God loves His children. Every single one of us. Including me. Imperfect, crazy, loud, fabulous, depressed, happy, bodily-challenged, joyful me. And there is nothing that my God wants more for me than to run to Him. In joy and happiness, in pain and agony, in numbness and confusion. He will take all of it, if I will just come.

I’m truly grateful for the experience of writing my story. Of course, there are ten million other significant details I haven’t shared. (You’re welcome.) But good or bad, hard or easy, light or dark, it’s all worth it. It is what my Heavenly Father intended for my life. I’m sincerely grateful for every hard, painful, heartbreaking moment that depression has brought me. I’ll take every bit of it. And bring it to God. Because that is where it belongs. Mostly, that is where I belong. He has never left my side. That I know.

Feature Friday: Jamie

Jamie and I have been interacting on Instagram for I don’t even know how long now, and I hope to be able to meet her in person someday. I have grown to love her through the things she shares on her platform. Her smile shows that she has found happiness despite her struggles. She went through things a small child should not have to go through, and it has been affecting her all her life but I love the faith she has in our Savior.
Jamie is married to her husband of 19 years and lives in Queen Creek, AZ with her three kids: 17, 14, and 10 years old. She is a convert to The Church and was sealed to her husband in the Las Vegas Temple. She started writing her blog 3 years ago and speaking to the youth. Her passion is helping youth and women feel that they are not alone in their struggles. She wants to help open the conversation about mental health and share her testimony of her Savior. “It’s okay to not always be okay, and there is always hope.”

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Photo by Noel Grace Photography.

When I was 9 years old, I spent my entire Christmas break in bed. I had been for weeks and things didn’t seem to be getting any better. I had a few pretty typical flu-like symptoms and others that didn’t make much sense. My body constantly ached, I had fevers off and on and I was extremely pale. I also had leg cramps so severe I couldn’t move at times. I had extra bruises on my body and one that was large and almost black. It had been there for several weeks and all I could remember was bumping into the rounded corner of my desk at school.

When my fever spiked to 104.6, my mom decided to take me in. I was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia, called Acute Myelocytic Leukemia. I was given a 25% chance of survival. None of the doctors in the entire state of Nevada knew how to treat me. I was sent to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles (CHLA) for treatment.

Once I got to CHLA, I immediately had more tests run and started my first dose of chemotherapy. After a little over a week, I was placed in what we called a “bubble room”. It was a back section of the hospital on the pediatric oncology floor dedicated to quarantine treatment. My chemotherapy protocol was so severe that my body would be unable to fight off common ailments. The flu could have been very dangerous. With my immune system completely depleted, I could have easily died from an infection.

The room looked a lot like a typical hospital room; bed, tv, a large cabinet, and sink. What it was lacking was a bathroom. I had a small metal toilet in the middle of the room that I had to use and a makeshift tub that I was only allowed to use a couple times a week. There was a stationary bicycle in the back corner and where the front wall should be there was a large, clear, vinyl curtain that hung from the ceiling.

There was no door to the room, however, if anyone (doctors, nurses, or family) wanted to come into the room with me they had to “suit up”. They would have to put on a medical hazmat suit that covered their entire body and all of their skin. I had to have no skin to skin contact while I was in the room. I spent three months in that room unable to leave even for a moment.

Those three months were very traumatic. Lots of painful procedures, one of which resulted in an accidental temporary paralysis. I was so weak and sick that I had to be placed on a feeding tube for a couple weeks just to be able to get any nutrition.

The nights spent in that room were terrible and felt extremely lonely.

I had miraculously gone into remission much sooner than any of the doctors expected and the plan was to have a bone marrow transplant; the only known cure of Leukemia. After many more setbacks and difficulties with my heart, I never was able to receive the transplant.

I continued the chemotherapy for one year, and five years later was considered completely cured. It was a miracle. Well, many small miracles that kept me in this world.

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I had been raised in a few different faiths and after my chemotherapy ended, my mother and I were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My faith in my Savior sustained me through many years of hard times after that.

As a teenager, I suffered from severe PTSD, Survivor’s Guilt, and depression. Life looks very different to a teenager that has gone through a life or death trauma as a child. I felt like I was squandering my second chance at life while I watched many of my friends pass away from the same disease I was saved from. When I was 17 years old, I planned my suicide. I know that it was by the grace of God that I was able to keep myself from following through with those plans.

I now speak to youth to try and help them feel not so alone in their darkness. I want to help break open the conversation on mental health and help these teens see that there is always hope through our Savior. He is the only one that can be there in the darkness with us, understanding, loving, and guiding us back to the light.

I am beyond grateful for my testimony and faith. I have a very real relationship with my Savior and have literally felt Him in the room with me in some of my darkest moments. I have continued to struggle with PTSD and depression throughout the years. I continue to go to therapy to help get through the traumas I have experienced. It has helped in so many ways.

The one thing though that has and always will be my constant, is my Savior, Jesus Christ. He has always been there and I know it is by His hand that I am still here today and able to love my husband and three miraculous children. This Gospel helps keep me grounded in a scary world where I have no control over health or traumatic things. It is my faith that keeps me going and that keeps hope alive that one day the darkness will all subside, and only light and peace and love will be left in its place.

Feature Friday: Colie

I felt a special connection with Colie because she too came home from her mission in Texas because of medical problems. I’m grateful for her willingness to share about that.
Colie Jensen is 20-years-old and is currently a student at BYUI. She is passionate about dance, travel, and being in the moment.

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Photo by Amanda Photo Co.

One of the most humbling moments I’ve ever had was being faced with depression. For 19 years of my life, depression was an excuse for people to get out of situations they didn’t want to be in. It was “all in your head” and it was “made up”. Why couldn’t people just “snap out of it?”

There is something so real and dark about depression that I didn’t understand until I went on my mission.

My life made a complete 180 turn when I arrived in Texas. I went from a happy, outgoing, and bubbly girl to someone who hated looking in the mirror, never wanted to get out of bed, and dreaded putting on a “happy” face. There were days where I laid in bed for hours at a time because the darkness around me and inside me felt so real and overwhelming. There were days where thoughts of self-harm would come into my mind and it terrified me. These thoughts were not normal and not healthy!

Days, weeks, and months went by after I came home from my mission – 16 months early. It was HARD. There were and still are moments where I have PTSD after something triggers a dark thought I encountered on my mission. It’s been over a year and a half and sometimes, I question if it was even worth going in the first place. But, there is a quote that a recently heard that changed my perspective on my experience. it may not mean anything to anyone, but it was one of those phrases that sunk DEEP into my soul. “You’re too focused on where you’ve been to pay attention to where you are going.” (Mary Poppins Returns)

It can be so hard and damaging to live in the past and wish for things to change that can’t. Looking at an eternal perspective, this life is so short. My mission and my depression is only a blink compared to an eternity of love, laughter, and pure joy. For those struggling, there is always a light and the end of the tunnel. It may not be now, next week, or 12 years, but it will come. I’ve been walking through this tunnel with a flashlight (and some Dr. Pepper of course) for some time now, and who knows when I’ll get out of it. But, there is so much hope and joy knowing that it’s not forever, only a few minutes out of eternity. You can do it. WE can do it.

Feature Friday: Mindy

I met Mindy at the lunch meet-up that I co-hosted with Veronica from Utah Women’s Retreats last Saturday. She was so easy to talk to and I feel like we have already been friends for longer than a week. She is doing amazing things!
Mindy Rowley is a wife and mother of four kids, she is starting a mom coaching business and she loves nature, writing, and art. Also, check out this ebook about anxiety and depression her Father-in-law wrote here.

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Photo by Fausett Photography.

My whole life I’ve felt two-faced. I’m super nice, but sometimes I would feel so out of control that I would behave in unacceptable ways.

Like in first grade when that boy who always tried to kiss me at recess got the scare of his life when I pulled sharp metal scissors out of my pocket. I just wanted to scare him so he’d leave me alone!

Or the time I punched my dad in the gut when he was “pretending to be me” while talking on the phone to my best friend.

Maybe some childhood circumstances conditioned me to behave this way as a child, but I struggled to grow out of it!

After my husband and I were married I had the horrible thought of killing him while I was holding a knife. There I go again with sharp objects! It was a terrible thought and my husband had done nothing to even make me feel this way. He’s a total sweetheart! However, in my mind, I felt threatened in some inconceivable way.

Or there were the countless times when my oldest daughter was potty training and whenever she’d have an accident I was convinced that she was doing it to make me mad. I felt like I couldn’t control myself and I would spank her. Sometimes so hard it would leave a mark. I knew it was abuse and I felt like such a horrible person and a complete and epic failure at being a mom and disciple of Jesus Christ. I felt like I was spiraling downward.

So many times I had the urge to run away and leave my kids. I felt like they’d be better off without me. Maybe my husband could remarry a really great person and my children could have the mother they deserved? Sometimes I felt like I could hardly breathe, or like I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was suffocating in hopelessness.

There were times that I considered talking to a doctor or therapist, but I was too afraid to even say the words anxiety and depression. I was afraid of what those labels would make of me. Would they make me even more of a monster? I didn’t really think there was hope for me.

Finally, I went to a therapist and I just let it all spill. I cried so hard that I’m sure he didn’t have a clue what I was even saying, but it felt really good to get the dark feelings out. I’ve continued to go to counseling, engage in writing and art therapy, meditation, make changes to my diet and getting more sunshine.

Gradually I have felt life come back into me. I could feel the Spirit of God when I read the scriptures and pray. I know it will always be an uphill struggle for me, but I don’t feel alone in the struggle.

Feature Friday: Julie

I found Julie through watching her on a Hi-Five Live with Ganel-Lyn Condie and then was lucky enough to meet her at a launch party in May. We have become close friends since and she has been a huge blessing to me in my life, I don’t know what I would do without her. Her story is one that I believe many can relate to.
Julie Bristow is originally from Holladay, Utah, but has resided in Orem, Utah for the past 13 years with her husband and 3 young children (including boy/girl twins). She graduated from the University of Utah in Human Development and Family Studies. She is passionate about people and making meaningful connections. She worked in health administration at various clinics and hospitals for over a decade after college graduation. She met her husband, Jared, when they were both working as “Especially For Youth” counselors in Rexburg, Idaho. Currently, she is a full-time stay at home mom. She is incredibly passionate about being a mental health advocate. She aims to break the stigma associated with mental health in hopes to pave the way for open conversation of such critical matters. Mental health struggles, mainly in the form of chronic depression and anxiety, have been a part of her life since she was a teenager. She is determined to live a life full of joy despite any darkness trying to pull her down. Some of her other passions include: time spent with family, interior design and decor, writing, photography, dancing in the kitchen with her family, and naps.

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Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.

“Joy Amidst the Sorrow”

I am not depression and anxiety. I am Julie. Just a regular person. My circumstances and hardships do not define me. Your circumstances and hardships do not define you. They are a part of our earthly experience. Twenty-one years of suffering from chronic depression and anxiety are part of my story. I have to accept that. Remembering that along the way our trials help shape and mold us in the refiner’s fire so that we may someday reach our Divine potential. To that end, I endure. To that end, I find joy, hope, and fulfillment despite the darkness, pain, and loneliness.

In my personal experience, I am taught that joy and pain can coexist. That even though I often feel wrapped up in darkness, somehow a knowledge of hope somewhere deep inside of me gets me through one day at a time. I am living, breathing, walking proof of daily struggle and daily joy.

Teenage years/Onset

I first felt of depression and anxiety when I was 17-years-old. Between my Junior and Senior years of high school.

I had no reason to be depressed. No trauma, no unpleasant situations or experiences. No environmental factors. Nothing. In fact, my life had been pretty golden. Why, one day, could I not get out of bed? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that a medical history of depression and anxiety run heavily in my family. At this time, I was the Junior Class president in my high school, a nearly straight-A student, surrounded with a good family, amazing friends, a joyful countenance, and a testimony of Jesus Christ.

I then went to not being able to get out of bed by my Senior year of high school. I remember missing my morning classes and sometimes full days. My friends teased me that I had “senioritis”. I laughed with them, while simultaneously feeling hurt and confused inside. I didn’t know how to explain to them what was going on because I myself didn’t know what was going on. I was just reacting to this strange, new way of being as it came creeping in day by day.

My dear mom eventually dragged me to see some sort of mental health specialist. I don’t remember who because I was too busy throwing an epic fit of protest.  I screamed, cried, and yelled at her. I didn’t want to be different from my peers. I didn’t want to have problems. I told her I didn’t need medicine and that if I just had enough faith and believed in Jesus Christ enough, that He could heal me. I really thought I could pray it away. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t pray my depression and anxiety away. I ended up starting on some medication and counseling, which is what I personally needed.

High school graduation came and I did graduate from high school, although not with the grades I had kept up my whole schooling and really hoped to graduate with. But I did graduate. That was the beginning of many miracles that the Lord would provide for me as I continued and tried my hardest to be faithful to what I believed to be true despite feeling awful inside due to depression and anxiety plaguing me.

College

After high school, I attended college and graduated by another God-given miracle. Part of that particular miracle was the American with Disabilities Act. After missing so many classes and finding it nearly impossible to focus and study with the raging depression and anxiety I went to the disabilities office on campus and asked what I needed to do to qualify. I needed a note from both my counselor and psychiatrist. I turned in the notes with my diagnosis and recommendations from my doctors and now I was on the “disabled” list which in effect meant I had extra time to get my homework in and extra time to take tests or turn in projects. I don’t know that I would have graduated college without that.

But I did, I graduated college with a Major in Human Development and Family Studies. I cannot deny God’s hand in the achievement of yet another milestone of my life. It was another life line He threw out to help me achieve my dreams to live the kind of life I so desperately wanted despite my limitations and challenges.

Full-time work

Entering the full-time workforce after college graduation was no easy task. I have had a job ever since I was fifteen years old. After the depression and anxiety kicked in, there wasn’t one job or employer that I held where I didn’t get reprimanded for tardiness. Tardiness usually because getting out of bed felt next to impossible.  It was always so humiliating. But, for the most part, employers were understanding, compassionate, and gave me second chances as long as our communication remained open. I found it was so important to speak up about my struggles when it was needed. To give people a chance to give me a chance.

Dating/Marriage

I had good dating experiences throughout high school and college.

I met my now husband, Jared, in my early twenties while we were both working as counselors at Especially For Youth up at BYU Idaho. We started dating and fell in love fairly quickly. I think Jared a little more quickly than me. 🙂

I told him two months after we started dating about my struggles with depression and anxiety. He stayed with me and he supported me. He saw me at my best of times and at my worst of times.

Our dating life and engagement was not easy. Satan used my already established illness of anxiety and depression and messed with my mind big time as I tried to make a decision as big as choosing an eternal companion. I would have these moments of distinct clarity and felt like I was making the right decision, a righteous one to choose and accept Jared as a potential husband. But then, when the anxiety and depression were dialed up, my doubt crept back in and became unbearable at times. To make a long story short, Jared and I endured through the hard times and continued to fight for each other.

We dated a little over a year and were married and sealed in the Salt Lake City temple in 2005.

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Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.

Children

We decided a few years after we are married that we were ready to try for children. We went on to struggle with the heartbreak of infertility and other health issues.  Eventually, we were blessed with three miracle children.

Our firstborn a daughter,  and a few years later we welcomed boy/girl twins into the world.

When the twins were born, we went from one child to three overnight. Three children 3 and under.

I wish I could say it has been bliss ever since because we got what we pleaded and prayed for.  But it would be dishonest to say that. It was and has been hard… really hard. However, through this process, especially of having twins, I was sent earthly angels in the form of family, friends, and neighbors who buoyed us up and kept us going that first year or two. Earthly angels. Life was even harder, but I desperately wanted my children. I fought hard for them and I will never forget that fight.

Family life

It used to be that taking care of only myself, waking up, and showering was considered a “good day” for me… a feat to be overcome. Heck, if I brushed my teeth it was a GREAT day. A reality of living with depression and anxiety is that sometimes the simplest of tasks seem DAUNTING.

I now had four people who depended on me. I was a mother and a wife of a family of five. Often I still feel inadequate to take care of myself, let alone my home and my family. The feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, shame, and guilt are there and are very real.

But I’m here and I’m doing it. I have a good husband by my side. I have the support of family and friends when I need it. We are a happy family, despite all the struggles, we truly have so much joy in our home.

And I really don’t know how, but by the grace of God, I am plugging along one day at a time. Another miracle.

Medication

Twenty-one years later after that first encounter of this illness, I still take medication. I see my psychiatrist every 2-3 months. We often change things around. Adding this, taking away that, or trying something entirely new. I’ve tried going off medicine as well, and that is not an option right now. I crash every time and I really cannot function. I am thankful for modern-day medicine to take the edge off even if it doesn’t fully take away my symptoms. No single treatment has ever really worked for me. Medication may not be the answer for everyone. There are many things out there to help, but it is there for those who need it, like me.  I still go to counseling intermittently and I still need all the support and help I can get. My particular diagnosis is called “Treatment Refractory Depression and Anxiety” which means that conventional methods of treating depression and anxiety don’t work for me.

Anxiety

As of late, anxiety has been more prominent in my life lately than straight depression, even though they go hand in hand in a vicious cycle.

Stress and anxiety are part of life, no matter who we are.

Stress (and even anxiety) provide motivation to get something done or to overcome an obstacle. However, sometimes it turns into more negative forms and the very things that can propel us in life can cripple us. My particular anxiety is categorized under “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” which more or less means I often feel intense anxiety or panic about nothing in particular. It simply is just there.

The only way I’ve been able to explain my experience with it to those who are not familiar with the feeling is this:

Imagine you have just received a phone call from the hospital that your child, your parent, or a sibling has just been in a terrible accident and they are in the operating room. You get to the hospital waiting room and all you can do is pace back-and-forth not knowing whether that person is going to live or die. Essentially, you are in a state of panic for fear of the worst.

Now take those same feelings of fear and panic of something horrible happening, and imagine feeling that way, but for NO APPARENT REASON. And with this, I  try so hard to figure the WHY of you feeling this way, but simply cannot.

Sometimes these episodes lead to debilitation. Sometimes all I can do is maybe curl up in a ball underneath the covers and ride out the storm.

Many times the discomfort of anxiety has been so bad, I’ve barely been able to bring food to the table for my kids. I’ve barely been able to cope and function throughout the day.

Periodically, when Jared arrives home from work, I literally see no way out of the pain, than to just go to my room and “check-out” by trying to fall asleep. Exhausted with the mental and physical battle that has been raging in my body all day long, I escape again to the unconscious mind. You could say that sleep is my “drug” of choice.

I have felt like I wanted to die because of the deep, uncomfortable pain. I, myself, have not been truly suicidal, but suicide is real. I have lost loved ones to this due to mental illness. I have witnessed that they felt like they were a burden to the ones they loved,  and they honestly felt that the world around them would be better if they were gone.

When I personally go through periods of deep darkness and hopelessness, I logically know I’ll make it through even though it feels like I won’t. I consider that knowledge of hope one of the greatest blessings of my life even when I can’t feel hope. It’s a perspective that has taken many, many years with lots of therapy to fully grasp.

Endurance

For me, after enduring the darkness, I know the Heavenly promises come and that there are joys on the other side of that dark tunnel, even when the dark seemed impenetrable. I have felt that dark. I have felt the light. Little by little I sense that I will see the sun rise again, no matter how many days I  have missed it and I vow to never stop fighting.

In Alma Chapter 26 we read about the prophet Ammon who led his brethren who were seeking to do missionary work among the Lamanites against much opposition. At one point in their journey, they were so overcome with defeat they were ready to turn back. In verse 27 it says: Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.

Patience

I myself, am still learning to bear with patience mine afflictions. I have not always done it with grace, but I have seen time and time again the success that the Lord has given unto me as I continue to endure. I am still fighting. The battle of this illness continues every single day.

I know that I am not alone. I am not broken, even though I may feel otherwise. As with any physical illness, I continue to seek treatment for my brain. I don’t know why it stopped functioning optimally. It wasn’t caused by anyone else’s actions, or by any fault of my own. I’m not sure why the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in my brain isn’t balanced. I don’t know why the synapses and neurotransmitters are not doing their job correctly. What I do know is how I feel. I do know how it feels to be severely depressed, to have chronic debilitating, paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. I do know what it feels like to want to be in bed all day,

Humility

My struggles, my illness are not a punishment from God. In fact, I feel that they help keep me headed towards God and focused on my Savior, for through His Atonement is the ONLY way I can make it through this.  The Book of Mormon teaches us in the book of Jacob: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” And so it is by my weakness, my human struggle that I am reminded of my great dependence on my Savior.

Hope

President Russell M. Nelson said:

“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives…..if we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”

When I reflect about this principle of truth and the different trials we go through as well as times of reprieve, I realize that sometimes we get to stand in the sun, enjoy its rays, feel of its warmth and light. Other times in life, we have to rely on our memories of that warmth and sunshine. In either situation, there is always room for the light to enter our souls and permeate us with joy.

Obedience

I want to reemphasize that as much as I talk about hope and joy, a lot of the time I do not always feel hope and joy. I often don’t have the relationship with the Holy Ghost that I wish I did, because sometimes the very faculties to reach my Father in Heaven are the ones that are crippled. That is where obedience comes in. Remaining true to my covenants and having faith in Heavenly Father’s promises. So, at times it is my knowledge of hope and joy that carry me through on my darkest of days when feeling anything like joy just isn’t possible.

Testimony

That knowledge that carries me through is my testimony of Jesus Christ and this gift of endurance is given only in and through Him. So I have hope. Not necessarily hope that this trial will be taken away from me permanently, but hope that I can continue to endure, endure it well, and find joy amidst the pain. Ultimately becoming the person Heavenly Father intended me to be.

Feature Friday: Kim C

I met Kim at a launch party back in May and have been following her on Instagram since. I also had the opportunity to hear her roundtable discussion at SALT in September. The term “boss babe” comes to mind when I think of Kim because she is so gorgeous and just read her bio. She has a heart of gold and I am excited to see what other amazing things she does.  I love how she opened up about having postpartum depression and how she used mindfulness to help her overcome.
Kimberly is a freelance writer, journalist, creative brand namer, and book-loving mom. She talks about mindfulness, motherhood, and books online at Talk Wordy to Me, and is a contributor on Utah’s top lifestyle show, Studio 5. She is co-creator of the Loom Journal, a revolutionary parent-child journal that fosters mindfulness and screen-free connection and development. She’s also working on a historical romance novel inspired by her visit to the picturesque Cotswolds in the English countryside. She is a fan of BBC dramas, teaching and practicing yoga, ice cream, traveling the world, simplifying her life and home, and encouraging other women to live their dreams.

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Photo by Brittany Allred

How mindfulness helped me out of postpartum depression and how it can help all of us

I had just had my third child—the sweetest addition to our family and our most mild-mannered baby. We were so happy to have her. We had tried for her for awhile, and had a few scares during my pregnancy that we’d lose her due to a significant blood clot I had in my uterus. So when she arrived, healthy and whole, we were overwhelmed with gratitude.

But despite that gratitude and her sweet temperament, I started struggling with postpartum depression about four months after she was born.

The days felt like a never ending carousel of overwhelm and not being able to meet my three little childrens’ needs. Every day felt like a gigantic wave crashing harshly against a cliff, then retreating back, just to crash into the cliffs again.

Adding a child to the family is overwhelming for everyone, but I could tell there was something else going on aside from the normal adjustment to having a new baby. I didn’t feel like myself. Anger, sadness, anxiety, and stress pervaded my thoughts and emotions and I felt like I could never quite rise above it.

Anyone who has experienced any form of depression knows what it feels like to have that heavy cloud following you around everywhere. Life just doesn’t hold the vibrancy or hope it used to, and self-love is far away. It’s replaced with shame, despair, and a desire to disappear.

Sometimes, when I was driving the car with all of my kids in it, one of them would freak out or fight or melt down, and I felt an intense loss of control. I remember wanting to crash the car on more than one occasion. I just wanted to escape.

The worst of it for me was that I started feeling uncharacteristic anger. It’s hard to explain the intensity of it, but something would trigger it, like a child’s meltdown, and I reached a point where I couldn’t process my anger or keep it inside any more. It was like it wasn’t even part of me, but something that rose up like an ugly monster when it was set off. I had to do something physical to release it. I would slam a wall, throw something, or knock something over to release this wave of emotion that was too strong for me to handle. I lost it with my kids too. I didn’t hurt them, but I had thoughts of doing so. And sometimes I yelled, swore (all the words), and grabbed them too harshly. Those moments scared me, and they scared my kids. They were always followed by a wave of intense shame and guilt, and a desire to escape this monster inside of me.

Here’s something I wrote in my journal about my newfound anger before I learned that anger can be an indicator of postpartum depression:

It’s the thing I hate the most about myself.

It makes it harder that it’s not even something I struggled with until I became a mom of multiple children. I’m trying to figure out where the frustration comes from.

I went on to write about a time my boy (4 years old at the time) was relentlessly begging and whining about something he could not have. After trying to hold it together for awhile, I eventually lost my temper.

Something about the sound and the loss of control and ability to reason with him breaks something in me and I snap. So, I did. I pushed a small table down and a few things tumbled to the ground. I swore too.

Camden’s cries changed instantly from whiny “I want my way” cries to more genuine “mom is scary” cries. He yelled to me that I was being mean and breaking our things, and he ran to his room. I thought I should do the same, so I proclaimed a time-out and shut myself in my room to write this.

Meanwhile, Ellie broke into sobs and started calling for me.

I, of course, felt like the piece of something I yelled out in my rage minutes before and hugged and apologized to my son, then did the same with my girl.

Those apologies are becoming pretty commonplace around here. I hope they don’t lose their meaning.

More than that, I hope to God that my sweet children’s childhood memories are not laced with vivid (or even blurry) scenes of me losing it out of frustration with them.

What does that do to their self-esteem? What does that teach them? How will my behavior affect them as they grow up and become parents?

How is it affecting them now? Ellie and Camden both “lose it” out of frustration for each other and for us. They threaten to hit and throw just like I catch myself doing from time to time. They yell and scream, just like I do. Is that my fault? Would they be much kinder and more patient if I was?

How do I break this habit? How is it possible to break a reaction to something negative when the negative thing isn’t going to change?

The guilt I feel over this behavior of mine is a bottomless pit. I wish I could magic it away, but it keeps coming back. Worse when I’m tired. 

Would I be able to control my temper better if I worked less? Was less involved in Instagram and blogging? If I planned my days around my children instead of around my agenda? How do I even go about doing that?

First, I’ll start with prayer.

Prayer to know if there are things, distractions in my life that I need to let go of. And to know which ones are important for me to hold on to. Because I don’t think letting go of everything I’m doing outside of motherhood is the answer. I think the other things I do go a long way to help me feel fulfilled and more well-rounded and happy as a person and mom.

But what is causing this imbalance?

Is there a change I can make in my health that will help me have more balance, more calm, more control, more energy?

Is there something lacking in my spiritual life? Will reading scriptures more, going to the temple help me overcome this weakness?

Do I need to cut way back on Instagram and being on my phone? How do I stick to disciplinary goals I’ve made in that regard?

I know I want to be more in tune with my kids. Their needs, what makes them tick. I want them to feel so heard, understood and valued. I want them to know they are more important to me than anything else.

Looking at my phone while they talk to me is not going to communicate that. Kids can tell if they’re being put first or not. I need to put more energy into making them my primary focus.

Because these years are short. They go by quickly, then there’s no time to start over or go back and spend more time with them or erase the parental temper tantrums. This is what I’ve got. Today. So I need to pay attention.

Five years from now, will I look back and be happy with how I spent my time? Addicted to social media and the responses I get there? Is there a middle ground? I’d like to be part of it, but not consumed by it.

As I pray for guidance in this anger issue and social media addiction issue, I hope I will get an answer that will lead me to a better, more present and productive version of myself.

I did get that answer. It came as three distinct steps:

First, I needed help. I wanted to fix things on my own, but I realized that was I was experiencing was not entirely in my control. I saw a therapist who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and helped me realize that many of the feelings I was struggling with (including the anger) was not my fault. I did not need to keep shaming myself for it. She gave me some tools for processing emotion that I still use today.

Second, I needed to look after myself in a productive, meaningful way. I needed to reconnect to who I was and what made me feel whole.

Third, I needed to care less about the world of my to-do list and my phone, and more about the little people in front of me.

At this time, mindfulness was becoming a buzzword. It’s been around for centuries, but we are all learning about it now because of social media and technology, instead of it being kept in therapist’s offices or monasteries. When I started learning about mindfulness, is felt like I was refamiliarizing myself with grounding practices that were already a part of my intuition, I just had forgotten how to access them.

Studies show that mindfulness can help prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me in a huge way to climb out of the darkness I was in and it continues to help me access happiness and stay grounded every day. Here are just a few ways mindfulness helps me:

  1. Mindful technology and social media use

The worst thing about this PPD and social media addiction I was experiencing was that they disconnected me from my kids and my husband. I wasn’t connected to the things that really mattered–the life and the people right in front of me. They disconnected me from my own intuition, the voice that tells me what I need to be doing instead of just watching what everyone else is doing and trying to fit myself into that box was quieted by the whoosh of my scrolling and tapping.

Once I had my wake-up call, I set some ground rules with my phone. No more going to it first thing in the morning. Instead, I turned it off by 10 at night and kept it out of my bedroom. I stashed it in a drawer during the day in favor of more eye contact with my kids. I left it behind on purpose. I still used it, but with intention instead of mindlessness now. My kids noticed, and our relationships and their behavior improved. All of our behavior improved. Our kids deserve so much more than being brushed off in favor of a screen. My social media use still gets out of whack sometimes, but creating boundaries and staying connected to my real-life relationships has helped immensely. I wrote more tips on healthy social media use in this article.

2. Meditative moments

I love meditation, but an hour-long session of seated silence just isn’t realistic for me right now. Instead, I find other ways to “meditate” throughout the day:

  • A three-minute guided meditation on Headspace
  • Three deep breaths anytime during the day
  • Youtube yoga
  • Meaningful prayer
  • Journaling
  • Anchoring myself in moments by observing all of my senses
  • Making a mental gratitude list

Working these moments of pause into my day go a long way to helping me feel more calm and grounded.

3. Thought work

All of our emotions are a result of our thoughts. Everything we believe, do, and are starts in our thoughts. Once I started paying attention to and changing the course of my thoughts, I noticed a huge change in my emotional health. I stopped believing everything I thought and chose my thoughts instead of letting them rule my emotions.

No one is immune to feeling the effects of depression and anxiety. We are all on the spectrum, and there are things that trigger it and things we can do to prevent and manage it. Beyond the medication that is necessary in some cases, I think mindfulness is the most powerful thing we can invest in to take care of our mental health.

Click here for Kimberly’s guide, Everyday Mindfulness: Simple practices for a more present, peaceful, purposeful life.

Feature Friday: Alexis

I found Alexis’ Instagram account and asked her to share her experience with anxiety. Her account is great and can be found here, she also has a Facebook page.
Alexis Graff is 22-years-old and a mom of two little boys under age 2. She recently graduated from Dixie State University with a psychology degree, aspiring to one day become a substance abuse counselor. She would love to help end the stigma of mental health by educating others about it and letting others know it is okay to have trials. “As we share our vulnerabilities we can be of great help to others around us!”

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I learned what it was at 18 years old. It started in 4th grade, at age 10. My parents switched me from public to private school because they felt like I was wasn’t learning enough in school. I always had straight A’s, which I think played a huge role in the switching of schools.

A few months into school, there was a social studies exam I needed to take the next day. My cousins had come into town that night, so instead of studying, I played. (Keep in mind I was only 10!) I took the test the next day, knowing I had missed almost everything. Then we graded them. Before we even started, I knew I failed that exam miserably. My teacher started giving us the scores based on questions missed. I could feel my heart racing so fast, my stomach becoming a huge knotted mess. I had never felt so afraid in my whole life. I asked to go to the bathroom as my voice shook, you know, when you’re trying to prevent yourself from crying. I got to the bathroom and began sobbing on my knees, by the toilet. I felt like the knot in my stomach was going to come out of my throat. It didn’t.

I failed that test. My parents were going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I study? I shouldn’t have played, I should have been responsible. What if I didn’t pass the 4th grade? I just sat there miserable, afraid, not knowing what to do.

My teacher came and found me and I told her I was so sick. My stomach was hurting so bad. She called my mom and she took me to Instacare thinking I had something wrong with me. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doctor saw me and said I was fine. Nothing was wrong with me. He mentioned an ulcer but that was the extent of that. So for years, I battled daily migraines, headaches, waking up with stomach aches, and more.

When I got into middle school, I finally had an MRI done because these headaches were not normal. Guess what? The MRI came back clear. What the crap?!

After that, I just decided that I was probably going to have these problems forever and I’d better get used to them.

All of those symptoms were present in anything I did. At work, at school, in volleyball, in choir, at church, at the store, and pretty much everywhere else.

I graduated high school, started college and that’s when everything made sense. There I was studying psychology, and we were discussing different mental disorders. As the professor went over GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), I finally felt understood and knew I was clearly not the only one facing this awful disorder.

Fast forward a marriage, and a baby later (3 years) I started a page to help others understand what mental health is, what living with a mental illness is like, and how to cope. I want people to know they are not alone, and that sharing their experiences can help others in ways nobody else can.